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Milwaukee Rapper Blax Gets Political on “Be Well”

Apr. 4, 2017
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Photo Credit: Sam Curro
Every generation of the Milwaukee rap scene has at least one live hip-hop band, a good natured by relatively unchallenging group that gigs constantly, warms the stage for rap headliners at Summerfest and plays out wherever the college kids are. For a good stretch of time in the late ’00s and early ’10s, that role was gamely filled by the band Fresh Cut Collective. Although that group dissolved a few years back after its members outgrew the whole party-rap thing, its DNA still carries through Milwaukee’s modern rap scene. Former keyboardist Kiran Vee went on to become one of the founding producers of New Age Narcissism, a much more cerebral rap ensemble featuring artists like WebsterX and Lorde Fredd33.

To say the least, watching the rise of New Age Narcissism, as well as the growth of Milwaukee’s rap scene in general, has been interesting for Fresh Cut Collective’s original frontman Adebisi, who left both the group and the city behind to move to New York in 2010. Now rapping under the name Blax, he’s been back and forth between the two cities for the last three or four years, and he can’t help but marvel at how far the Milwaukee has come. “When I left, it felt like things were plateauing, and when I came back things were brewing,” Blax says. “So many players started stepping up.”

Photo Credit: Jairo Bonilla
While some rappers might fixate on what might have happened if they’d stuck around, Blax says he doesn’t dwell on it. “My time with Fresh Cut was great; it was like our rock star years, but it kind of got unhealthy,” he says. “I don’t know if we’d be the same people we are now if I hadn’t left, but it’s cool to see that it helped spawn so much in the Milwaukee music scene. Like, the current New Age Narcissism Facebook page is the original Fresh Cut page I made in 2009. It was cool to be able to help jump-start that thing.”

Blax is 36 now, past the age where most rappers phase themselves out of the local scene, but he says he’s enjoying both his age and his stature. “I’ve been around, but I don’t feel old,” he says. “I feel how I’m supposed to feel. In some ways I feel like an elder statesman to what’s going on here now, but the kids respect me. I feel like a big brother. Like, I’ve known IshDARR since he was 10 years old. I used to date his auntie. His aunt was my high school sweetheart.”

And while Blax says he follows the local scene closely, his latest record, Be Well, feels like its own world. It’s loud, rowdy and confrontational, a far cry from the intricate psychedelia and hyper-intellectual trap of his younger peers, and it sounds like it was mixed with car speakers in mind. Reason produced most of it, and it features guest spots from Wave Chapelle, G.R.A.M.Z. and, most memorably, Coo Coo Cal—the mostly below-the-radar legend behind the city’s only number one rap hit, “My Projects.” It’d been a longtime goal of Blax’s to get Cal on one of his songs.

“Being a traveling musician, every time I’m in another city and I tell somebody I’m from Milwaukee, the first thing they ask is, ‘What’s up with Coo Coo Cal?’ It’s funny, the other day I pulled up some old YouTube clips of me freestyling from 2006, and the first comment under it is, ‘Where’s Coo Coo Cal?’ So I feel like I’m coming full circle. I had to get him on the record because I’m tired of people asking about that Coo Coo Cal record.”

Cal pops up on one of the album’s most unruly tracks, “Maybe”—“He liked the record, and he recorded some bomb-ass shit,” Blax says—one of Be Well’s periodic breaks from heavy, political territory. The album is stitched together by jarring news clips detailing Milwaukee’s racial strife and audio from the Sherman Park uprising, documenting that weekend the way Ice Cube’s classic records captured Los Angeles’s race riots. If it makes you uncomfortable, that’s because it’s supposed to.

“I had a manager tell me it was too heavy and to consider toning it down, but I still think artists have a responsibility not just to make people groove and to get your ass on the dance floor, but also to make you think as well,” Blax says. “I spent a lot of money on this record, a lot of my personal money, and I wasn’t about to invest it if it was just on bubblegum.”

Blax plays an album release show for Be Well on Friday, April 14 at the Cactus Club at 9 p.m. featuring G.R.A.M.Z., DANSE, Kewl, Kareem City, Phat Nerds and DJs from Dope Folks Records.


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